President Donald Trump walks through the Rose Garden as he arrives to honor NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and his team, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, May 21, 2018.
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When the New York Times first revealed the bombshell 20-page memo President Donald Trump’s legal team sent to Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year, attention immediately focused on the broad assertions of presidential power. In the letter, the lawyers essentially argued that the president can’t by definition obstruct justice, a novel and broad interpretation of presidential powers. A closer reading of the memo though also revealed that the president’s attorneys admit that Trump “dictated” the first misleading statement about the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians. That comes after repeated denials that Trump was involved in crafting the statement, including in congressional testimony by Donald Trump Jr.
“You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.,” the letter, written by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, said. “His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion.” Although Dowd left the president’s legal team in March, Sekulow is still in the post.
The Trump Tower meeting has now become shorthand to refer to the June 2016 sit-down that included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort with a group of Russians with close ties to the Kremlin, including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The Trump campaign officials were told the Russians had information on Hillary Clinton but Trump Jr. issued a statement saying the meeting was to discuss adoptions. In public statements, both attorney Jay Sekulow and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied Trump had played a part in crafting the statement. CNN compiled a list of the denials, noting that Sekulow had denied Trump’s involvement in writing the letter at least four times. Sanders, meanwhile, said that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement, although she did say he offered suggestions “like any father would.”
Giuliani on Sunday used the changing explanations to justify why Trump shouldn’t sit down with Mueller’s team. “This is the reason you don’t let the President testify,” Giuliani said Sunday during an appearance on ABC’s This Week. “Our recollection keeps changing, or we’re not even asked a question and somebody makes an assumption…I think that’s what happened here.”
As Mother Jones’ David Corn explains, beyond what it says about Trump and his legal team, the letter from his lawyers seems to contradict what Trump Jr. told congress in a private session by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Corn points out the following exchange in the recently released transcript of the testimony by the president’s son:
Q. The Washington Post has since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8th statement. Is that correct?
A. I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.
Q. Do you know who did draft that statement?
A. Well, there were numerous statements drafted with counsel and other people were involved and, you know, opined.
Q. To the best of your knowledge, did the President provide any edits to the statement or other input
A. He may have commented through Hope Hicks.
Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?
A. I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.
Q. Did you ask him to provide any assistance with the statement?
A. No. She asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to because I didn’t want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with.
Corn points out what seems to be the natural conclusion when comparing the letter from Trump’s lawyers and Trump. Jr.’s statements:
Trump Jr.’s remarks to the committee conveyed an inaccurate impression and can be seen as an attempt to provide cover for his pop. They might even be considered false statements. By the way, it’s a crime to lie to Congress.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a member of the House intelligence committee, pointed out this discrepancy on Twitter. “Donald Trump is lying or Donald Trump, Jr. lied during the House Intel investigation,” he wrote.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara also raised questions about these contradictory statements and said it could all add up to legal trouble for Trump and his aides. “You have the lawyer of the president of the United States, Jay Sekulow — and, on separate occasions, you have had Rudy Giuliani do this — basically lie to the American people repeatedly,” Bharara said.
“And if you are going to take the position, like they do in the sweeping letter about executive authority, that the president is in a special position in various ways, then I think the lawyers to the president have a special responsibility not to come on television and lie.”
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